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+ How to Patina or Clean Various Metals +
+ Photographing Your Work +
+ Pricing Your Work +

 
 

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How to Patina or Clean Various Metals

Sterling Silver

Do you want your sterling silver chain, wire or findings to have a blackened or antique look? You can purchase liver of sulfur via jewelry supply houses but it has a strong smell and is a flammable chemical. If you’d like to patina your sterling silver without hazardous chemicals you can try the boiled egg method. This method is also safe to use on finished jewelry with pearls or stones in it (liver or sulfur may damage pearls and stones.)

Before you attempt to patina the silver you will want to prepare it by completely cleaning all oils from the metal surface. I prefer a strong dish soap like Dawn or Joy. Rinse completely and then rinse again. Use pliers or tweezers to handle the metal as the oils from your hands will leave a residue that will affect the patina. Dry with paper towels or a cloth towel washed without fabric softener.

You will need one chicken egg, in the shell. Hard boil the egg for at least 7 minutes. When the egg is boiled and still hot, cut it in half and place it in the bottom of a glass container (I use a large glass Mason jar.) You’ do not have to peel it. Suspend your jewelry or wire from the top of the container and attach the lid firmly. If you went to the trouble of peeling the egg and want to eat it, put the container in the fridge. If you don’t want to eat the egg, you can let the container sit on the counter. Allow the silver to ‘soak’ in the egg sulfur for 24 hours. If the patina is not dark enough, repeat with a fresh egg.

To create ‘highlights’ on a textured metal surface or on chain you can rub the patina-ed metal with a polishing cloth. The edges will clean up and the recessed areas will stay dark.

Cleaning Copper

To clean copper you can try a fresh cut lemon (bottled lemon juice doesn't work) and salt. Make a slurry of the salt and lemon juice and soak the copper in it. The copper will brighten considerably. You may need to repeat a few times if the copper is especially dark. If you can scrub at the copper with a toothbrush dipped in the lemon/salt mixture it will help, especially for ‘green’ areas.

Patina on Copper

Here are several different methods of patina-ing copper. The methods below are non-hazardous but vary somewhat in their ‘icky’ factor. Chemicals to do this are widely available, check a local paint store (not a big box hardware store but an old fashioned paint store) if you want a chemical method.

Before you attempt to patina the copper you will want to prepare it by completely cleaning all oils from the metal surface. I prefer a strong dish soap like Dawn or Joy. Rinse completely and then rinse again. Use pliers or tweezers to handle the metal as the oils from your hands will leave a residue that will affect the patina. Dry with paper towels or a cloth towel washed without fabric softener if you want a more even
patina.

Copper takes on patina (darkening to brown and eventually producing green scale) in response to ammonia in the air. Try burying your copper in used cat litter for a nice green scale. Or submerge in a glass container of urine. You can also hang the metal in your shower for a few weeks to get a patina.

To seal the patina on copper you can use clear acrylic latex paint in a spray can. I prefer Rustoleum as it goes on in very thin coats and doesn't dry as shiny as other brands. Use several thin coats, allowing it to dry completely for two hours between coats.

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Photographing Your Work

We often get compliments on the photos on our site. We have some quick tips that may help you to make your jewelry or craft photos look better. For more information, we suggest visiting your local independent photography supply store.

We use a digital camera (currently a Nikon Cool Pix 4500 4 meg camera). Whatever camera you use, try to get one with a "macro" mode. This allows you to get really close to your jewelry. Blurry pictures aren't pretty.

All the photos on our site have been edited using Photoshop. It really helps to make them look 'picture perfect.' Because of this we use white backgrounds as it makes the editing go much faster. Using the "levels" option in Photoshop you can literally tell it what areas are supposed to be bright white and it will remove all color and shadow on the background. You are left with a very clean photo. For tips on using Photoshop we do recommend the book Photoshop for Dummies. Your local library or book store will have a copy of it.

Very simple props, if any, help your jewelry to stand out. Don't confuse the viewer with busy fabric backgrounds, prints, stripes, etc. If you really want to use props look at a copy of Martha Stewart Living magazine or the Sundance catalog. Both of those publications have nice, clean layouts with minimal (but well selected) props.

Use a tripod. This is essential as it lets you keep the camera really, really still. When you are photographing a tiny thing like jewelry, every little hiccup can make a difference.

You need photo flood lights. Go to your local photography store and take your camera. Ask them to recommend the appropriate lights and light bulbs. The right light will help you considerably. You need at least two to help with the shadows. You can sometimes rent these to save money.

For a white seamless background you can go to a photography store and ask for seamless background paper or you can get a really large sheet of white paper from an art supply store. If you are photographing jewelry, the art supply store sheet will be cheaper and big enough. You want to put the paper up high enough on the wall that it drapes down and makes the 'floor'
of your photo area.

Our actual equipment list:

  • Nikon Cool Pix 4500 4 meg Camera
  • Two 250 W Photo Flood Lights
  • White counter and background paper
  • Sturdy Tripod

Good luck!

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Getting Started in the Craft Business, Pricing Your Work

So, you’ve been making jewelry and getting compliments from family and friends. All their sweet words are turning your head a little and you are starting to think “hmm...maybe I can do this for money?”

Find your motivation
The first thing to ask yourself is WHY do you want to turn your hobby into a business? Is it to support your habit? Make enough to live on? Retire to a tropical island? Running a small business is work. You may be able to sell a few pieces a year and pay for your hobby, but making all that jewelry may cause you to loose some of your love of beading. Then again, you may find that beading more makes you want to bead more. It is important to evaluate your reasons for wanting to sell your work.

Knowing your craft
Another thing to consider before you let those compliments fill your eyes with stars is whether or not your work is READY to sell. How long have you been working at your craft? You don’t always have to spend years before you can sell a single bracelet, but you do need to know that you are making pieces that will hold up and won’t fall apart on your customers. Make sure you have perfected your techniques. Test out any new construction methods you use and test any new products. Make a bracelet with that new stringing material and wear it for a week. I used to test coatings on beads by either wearing it for a week, or wearing it for a few days and then tossing it in the washer. I figured if it survived the spin cycle it would probably wear o.k. Remember that if a customer purchases something from you and it doesn't hold up, they probably won’t be back.

Money, money, money
So you have decided that you do want to make your hobby into a business. Don’t plan on making a profit right away. In fact, plan on putting money into the business for at least two years. Any profits you make will probably need to go towards inventory or enhancing your set-up. Since you can’t be certain of a profit, you will need some other income to rely on and you should avoid borrowing money if at all possible. When you have a few slow shows that bank loan will be a heavy burden to carry. Do you you have the time and energy to devote to a business that won’t pay you back for a while? Perhaps selling on a smaller scale, maybe doing some home shows, would be better for your schedule than trying to sell to several retail stores or galleries.

You will also want to make sure you are doing everything legally and above board. Selling one or two pieces to a neighbor won’t attract the attention of the tax department, but creating a bigger business will. Contact your state and local tax departments to find out what kind of permits you need. Be certain to fill out all forms accurately and keep copies in your office. If you go to craft fairs or shows be sure to bring a copy of any certificates your local revenue departments require. Don’t forget to file the correct tax documents on time. In North Carolina you can visit the tax department online at http://www.dor.state.nc.us or a web search will find your local tax department in minutes.

  • Think again about your goals, why do you want to sell your jewelry?
  • If you aren’t declaring your sales as income, you can’t deduct your expenses.

Selling prices
Ahh, now the tough part. You’ve made some wonderful earrings and have customers lined up to buy them. How much should you charge? I have a formula that is a good guideline, but before we get to that I want to discuss the basic difference between selling wholesale and selling retail.

Wholesale sales are sales to anyone who will be reselling the merchandise. Retail sales are sales to any one who will be the end user of the merchandise. The prices for wholesale in the accessories market are generally one-half or less than what the final price will be to the retail consumer. (A side note here; different types of merchandise have different mark-ups between wholesale and retail. Cars aren’t marked up as much as athletic socks.) This is important to remember. You need to price your work at the correct prices. If you do not, you will be doing yourself and your work a disservice. If you develop a market for your work at retail craft shows but have priced your work too low, you are cutting yourself out of money and will eliminate the possibility of selling your work to galleries or boutiques. Even if you don’t want to sell your work to stores to resell, there is no reason to sell your work at prices that are too low. Beginners often make the mistake of pricing their items low to attract customers. After a while of doing this, they realize they aren’t making much money and now feel as though they cannot raise their prices and keep their customers.

So how do you determine your prices? You need to consider the cost of all the “ingredients” in your craft product. If you are making wire and bead earrings the costs include headpins, earring findings, beads, and the plastic bag or box you package them in for customers. This last part, the packaging, is part of what I call “studio costs” and I will go into more detail in another article about how to estimate these costs and how to keep them down. For right now let’s consider the studio costs to be $0.50 per pair of earrings and the total ingredients cost to be as follows:

Ingredients
Quantity
Cost
Unit
Extended
cost
headpins
10
$0.15
ea
=$1.50
beads
10
$0.08
ea
=$0.80
ear wires
2
$0.80
ea
=$1.60
1
$0.50  
=$0.50
     
Total:
$4.40

Ok, so our mythical pair of lovely earrings cost you $4.40 for ingredients.
Now, what about labor? You should compute labor charges based on how long it takes to make the item and the rate you want to make per hour. Now, don’t get crazy. We’d all love to make $100 an hour beading but then who would buy what we made? Be reasonable. If you think you want to sell lots to stores and you want to hire employees, use a basic rate that you might pay someone else to make the earrings for you. This should be decided based on the labor market in your area and based on what your time is worth. If you are planning on making one-of-a-kind work you can use a higher rate. The hands of the artist are always more valuable! A good, easy to use number is $10 an hour, so we will use that in our calculation. We are also going to pretend that our earrings take 30 minutes to make, so the labor cost for one pair is $5.

Now we are ready to look at the markup multiplier. This is the fuzzy area of the pricing formula. Large production designers and manufacturers use a markup multiplier to make sure that all their items are hitting the stores with a similar price level. As a beginner, you want to use a relatively low number, say 2.5 or maybe just 2.0. Big name designers can use much higher numbers because customers will pay a premium for their work. This is true for arts and crafts as well as fashion. A white, all cotton Hanes T-shirt and a white, all cotton, Calvin Klein T-shirt are basically the same with very similar manufacturing costs. There are subtle differences which may add a little to the cost, but the fact is Calvin can mark his stuff up a lot more than the folks at Hanes. That is why his T-shirts are $20 each and Hanes T-shirts are $5.99 for three. Until you are the household name Calvin is, lets work on keeping that multiplier at around 2.0 - 4.0. There are occasions that call for higher mark-ups, like custom work and high-demand items and I will discuss those later. One-of-a-kind work can also use a much higher multiplier because, well, it’s one-of-a-kind.

So, back to our mythical earrings. We know the ingredient cost is $4.40, the labor is $5 and the markup multiplier we are using is 2.5. Let’s look at the formula and plug our numbers in:

(ingredient cost + labor) x markup multiplier = wholesale price

also:

wholesale price x markup = retail price

So:

($4.40 + $5.00) x 2.5 = $23.50

Well, we have priced out our earrings at $23.50. I always rounded up, since I felt that it sounded a little more sophisticated. That would make these earrings $24. Now, that is a great price for these mythical earrings we are talking about, don’t you think? They are so lovely, they will match every outfit in your closet.

Pricing psychology
There actually is some psychology to choosing prices. Remember when I said that I always liked to use round numbers ($24) because it sounded more sophisticated? Well, that is my opinion, but it is also the general way prices are structured in U.S. retail stores. If something is priced at $23.99 or $23.97 it sounds cheaper than $24. O.k., I know it IS cheaper-by a few cents-but it sounds way cheaper in the shoppers head. You may be saying “all right! so I will price all my items at $-.97 or $-.99 so folks think they are a good deal.” Slow down. It doesn’t work that way. It also seems that folks feel that items might be MADE cheaper or are of lower quality if they are priced in the ‘bargain’ way. Test this out; go into a fancy store and look at some price tags. They will all be round numbers. Now go to a discounter and examine some tags. They will most likely be all of the $-.99 variety. You probably don’t want buyers to think your items are cheaply made or of lower quality, so stick with round numbers. As an added benefit, round numbers are easier to add in your head. I always like that one at busy shows!

One of a kinds
How can you price one-of-a-kind items? I mentioned above that one of a kind items can have a much higher multiplier. That is actually an understatement. One-of-a-kinds can have a MUCH HIGHER multiplier. Basically, you can charge whatever the market will bear. If you make one-of-a-kind items you should start with the above mentioned formula but use a multiplier of 4-7. As your work sells and you get busier, you need to raise your multiplier. You will lose some customers each time, but for a while you will gain some, too. Collectors generally tend to view themselves as collecting a certain type of item (say, beaded jewelry) at a certain price point (say, $150-300 per item.) When you move out of one collectors price range, you may find another who will value your work.
A note about this pricing. Be realistic. A ‘One-of-a-kind’ item that features mass produced ingredients won’t be worth as much as one that features handmade beads or pendants. Also, you will have a ceiling to your prices. If you raise them on some items and no one buys, or they buy only after haggling a bunch, lower your multiplier.

No absolute price
I don’t know if you have caught on to this yet but the reality of pricing a craft vs. a commodity is that there is no absolute price. No board regulates what you can or cannot charge. You must do the homework to figure out what your minimum price is, but the ceiling is determined by a host of variables. One variable is the market the sales will occur in. Last year one of the biggest trends in our area was large glass pearls knotted with ribbon. Local designers were selling them at prices from $25-$400 at boutiques in our area. What was the difference? Well, some had silk ribbons, and some had plastic pearls, so that difference was obvious. The less obvious difference was perceived value. In a fancier store the trendy necklaces were obviously nicer. New styles tend to show up first in more expensive stores; the customers are willing to pay more for better ingredients and being first on the block to knot their pearls. Once the items are available at the less fancy boutiques or chain stores (at less fancy prices) the trendier, spendier, stores usually have moved on. If you have a really hot item, and sell it at trendy stores, you may be able to make more for it.

Keeping accurate records
Don’t forget to keep accurate track of all your purchase prices for various materials. A simple way to do this is to just write the purchase price on a plastic bag and store the beads in that bag. You can also jot down where you got them in case you want to buy more. The problem with this system is that it gets tedious looking through all those bags when you are designing a piece. It also doesn't look very nice. Many beaders like to devote lots of time to organizing their beads just-so and a beautiful, well organized work space is inspiring. Another efficient-but not pretty-way to keep track of your bead prices and suppliers is to get a three ring binder and fill it with the plastic sheets used to store slides. You can purchase these at office supply stores or camera supply stores. These sheets have rows of little pockets with openings on the top only. It is easy to insert a sample of the bead or finding into the pocket and use clear tape to seal it up. You can then write the purchase price, supplier and date on the pocket. You can have different sheets for different types of items (Bali spacers, turquoise beads, blue Czech glass, etc.) which allows you to see what you may be low on when you are planning a shopping trip. I also know one designer who used a small binder that held 3x5 cards. She glued one of each bead to each card and wrote all the pertinent info on the card. She would also stitch a row of smaller beads to a card with the correct info.

Whatever method you decide upon, make sure you are writing down prices and not keeping them in your head. Also be certain to save all receipts and use some kind of accounting software or even old fashioned paper and pencil to keep records of all expenses. Accurate record keeping will save you time not just when pricing your work but when you are getting ready for taxes. If you know an accountant who will work for beaded jewelry, by all means contact them!

Studio costs
Studio costs are everything that you spend to make your craft that doesn’t get accurately accounted for in the ingredients list. Do you pay rent for a space? Did you purchase new furniture? Do you package your work in special boxes or bags for customers? Those things are all studio costs. Keeping your studio costs down is important, whether you are selling just to friends or to twenty different stores. Some costs-like furniture, storage bins and packaging-can be written off in the year they are purchased. Other costs, like expensive equipment, may need to be depreciated over several years. If you are selling only to a few friends in a couple of shows a year and making your jewelry at your kitchen table or in your family room, you may not want to worry about deducting those types of studio expenses. If you just rented a space in a building downtown and furnished it with some swanky worktables now is the time to investigate that jewelry-loving accountant...or take a small-business bookkeeping class at your community college.

Great Resources: